US lawyers become skeptical about working for Russian oligarchs

Not only are Russian oligarchs struggling to hold on to their mansions and yachts — they’re also struggling to keep their fancy New York lawyers.

In recent days, representatives of Igor Shuvalov have been frantically calling to find senior American lawyers who will take on the 55-year-old former Kremlin agent, whose family fortune is estimated at over $200 million, sources close to the situation told On The Money.

But even legal eagles who would traditionally work with tricky clients for the right price are now turning their backs on deep-pocketed Russians like Shuvalov, who sources say is keen to sue the sanctions imposed on him by the US Treasury Department on March 3, said the sources .

“No one goes near these cases,” a top New York trial attorney who has previously worked with oligarchs told The Post. “It was hard to do without as I could have loaded whatever I wanted, but it’s too radioactive.”

Shuvalov, who has attracted attention lately for owning a luxury apartment in London despite also facing EU sanctions, did not respond to a request for comment.

Igor Shuvalov
Sanctioned oligarch Igor Shuvalov is struggling to find a US attorney to take his case.

Certainly many of the best lawyers in the country are not known for overly discriminatory standards when dealing with unscrupulous clients. But at least one lawyer who recently refused to cooperate with oligarchs said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions amounted to “genocide” as public pressure mounts against his invasion of Ukraine.

“Vladimir Putin is now even worse than Jeffrey Epstein,” said Bill Browder, an investment manager with in-depth knowledge of Russia’s financial system. Browder championed and helped draft the Magnitsky Act, which opened the door for the US to sanction foreigners.

“Lawyers who previously worked for all sorts of shady figures and willingly accepted money from Putin’s allies now realize that Putin’s allies are so despicable that even they can’t touch them,” Browder adds.

Whiteshoe law firms that have operated in Moscow for years, including Debevoise & Plimpton, Latham & Watkins and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, all recently announced they were closing their offices. But outsourcing individual Russian clients is a more difficult task for law firms.

“You can’t just cut out existing customers,” a lawyer told the Post. “You need to find someone to take the case — and that’s not easy right now.”

“These law firms are damned if they do it and damned if they don’t,” Jimmy Gurulé, a former Treasury Department undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence in the Bush administration, told The Post. “It could be a breach of contract if they get rid of their customers, but holding on to customers could result in significant reputational damage.”

Oleg Deripaska
Oleg Deripaska, sanctioned in 2018, lost his lawsuit against Treasury sanctions.

There is nothing illegal about taking oligarchs as legal clients, notes Erich Ferrari of Ferrari & Associates, echoing Oleg Deripaska after the Russian billionaire was sanctioned in 2018.

“Recent sanctions authorize certain transactions, including legal services,” said Ferrari, who filed a federal lawsuit on Deripaska’s behalf to reverse sanctions in 2019, which were defeated in court last year. “It’s pretty normal for blocked people to be able to get legal advice.”

Ferrari adds that sanctioned individuals cannot make payments from frozen assets in the West but could wire money from Russia to pay a lawyer.

These oligarchs have “too much at stake and too much to lose not to challenge this,” adds one person with knowledge.

Nevertheless, the legal way to challenge sanctions is not easy. Specifically, the oligarchs must take the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is part of the Treasury Department, to federal court, arguing that the sanctions were “arbitrary and capricious” or that the Treasury Department has no government authority to impose the sanctions.

“Oligarchs trying to challenge this face a tough legal hurdle,” Gurulé said.

Roman Abramovich
Sanctions against Roman Abramovich could complicate the sale of his club Chelsea FC.
John Sibley

Treasury Department officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Financial sanctions separate oligarchs from their wealth. While it is up to the private sector to implement this, the law dictates that those who are sanctioned cannot access or use money, real estate or other interests.

“Public opinion is very strongly in favor of supporting Ukrainians,” Robert Kahn of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, told The Post. “There is ongoing pressure to do more to support them.” US lawyers become skeptical about working for Russian oligarchs


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